Food Counter Worker  What They Do

Just the Facts


Counter Attendants, Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop Career Video



Insider Info

dotFood service workers are the people who serve and sometimes prepare the food you order in restaurants, diners, fast-food places, delis and concession stands.

dotDepending on where they work, a food service worker can be anything from a server in a fancy restaurant to the counter person in a fast-food place.

"I went from serving meals at a fine dining restaurant to handing out meals and taking orders on [ferries]. It's very different work," says Jennifer Beamish, a server who now works at a cafe-style restaurant.

dotThe duties may vary from place to place. For restaurants that provide counter service, these duties might include:

  • Taking orders and receiving money for food
  • Wrapping and handing food to a customer
  • Preparing food
  • Keeping the area clean by wiping counters and tables and mopping the floor
  • Stocking and maintaining supplies

dotFor places that have servers, duties might include:

  • Greeting and seating customers
  • Taking food orders
  • Setting tables
  • Collecting orders from the kitchen
  • Preparing items like salads and beverages
  • Calculating a customer's bill and taking payment
  • Cleaning and preparing tables for the next customers
  • Presenting and serving wine and other alcoholic beverages

dotFood service workers often work in very fast-paced environments. They have to be alert and move quickly. This work involves being on your feet all day, so a good pair of shoes is highly recommended.

dotPeople hoping to work in the food service industry should also be prepared to lift heavy objects. This includes trays of food and drinks and boxes of supplies.

dotMany food service workers work on shift. Restaurants are often open seven days a week, and some are even open 24 hours per day. As a food service worker, you will have to be flexible. You may be expected to be available for all shifts.

"You have to expect to work odd hours if you're working in a restaurant. A typical week can be working from 5 to midnight every day," says Matthew Geary, a waiter in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

dotFood service workers make up a large percentage of the workforce in the United States. Many of these are young people between the ages of 16 and 19.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.


At a Glance

Prepare and serve food

  • You'll spend a lot of time on your feet
  • Tips vary a lot, depending on your skills, your clientele and where you work
  • Experience or training is required by most employers